A UK-based online marketing agency named datadial recently received a threatening letter (a Cease and Desist letter) from Fox Williams LLP demanding that a link on their website be removed. The link in question was pointing to Shopzilla’s website.
According to the letter from Fox Williams LLP on behalf of Shopzilla, there were legal grounds for removing the link:
— Trade Mark infringement
The Infringing Website contains a link to our client’s website, http://www.shopzilla.co.uk, creating an unauthorised association with our client and their Trade Mark. Your use of the link on the Infringing Website is:
— Causing detriment to the distinctive character of the Trade Mark;
— Causing detriment to the reputation of the Trade Mark by creating an undesirable association with the Infringing Website; and
— Taking unfair advantage of the goodwill attached to the Trade Mark.
Our client is entitled, at its own election, to damages or an account of profits for use of the Trade Mark.
The letter (which was sent via email) also included the following reason why the link to Shopzilla should be removed from the online marketing agency’s website:
Passing off [Fox William’s LLP’s] client’s goodwill
Our client has invested significant time and money in developing the Shopzilla® brand making it instantly recognisable amongst the public as a trustworthy and reputable online comparison shopping engine. It is highly likely that the average consumer will be confused, believing that our client is in some manner connected with the Infringing Website, either through ownership and operation or through a commercial relationship or endorsement with the operator of the Infringing Website. Such connection is causing our client damage. As such, your use of Shopzilla® in this way constitutes passing off.
And, apparently, copyright infringement was also mentioned. I’m surprised that simply linking to or mentioning another company or another website constituted copyright infringement. but, nonetheless:
The use of the Infringing Website of text and graphics taken from our client’s websites is an infringement of our client’s copyright. You have copies and communicated the copyrighted work to the public through the Infringing Website.
The use of the copyrighted work has occurred without the consent of our client, the copyright owner. We put you on notice that any continued use of our client’s text and/or graphics (in whole or in part) on the Infringing Website will constitute and infringement of our client’s copyright. This is without prejudice to our client’s position that you already have the requisite knowledge to establish such liability.
datadial posted on their blog about being sued by Shopzilla. Honestly, this is a classic case of “link bait” if I have ever saw one. Sure, they got an email from Shopzilla’s attorney. but really–they’re technically not getting sued (yet), as I bet that Shopzilla’s attorneys have not filed any paperwork with the court. The email that the online marketing agency received was just that–an email requesting a link removal.
It turns out that David Bixler from Shopzilla replied in the comments of the blog post:
I’m terribly sorry you received the letter from our attorney’s office. We appreciate that your site is not a spam site and is not mis-using our trademark. We flag up thousands of backlinks that are potentially spam and unfortunately your site slipped through our filter. Please disregard the notice and let me know if the wine was red or white…I’m sure I can find some twix as well.
VP, Operations – Shopzilla Europe
Shopzilla is using threatening emails to identify spam (or bad) links to their website in order to try to get them removed.
Did the email really request a link removal properly? Absolutely not. In order to clean up links to your website properly, you have to do the following things:
— Identify the bad links. There are a lot of links pointing to Shopzilla. You have to go through every single link and determine if it’s a bad link or a good link. To me, it sounds as in this case someone did not know what they were doing when they sent out all these emails to site owners trying to get the links removed. 99 percent of the work during link cleanups are identifying the bad links from the good links!
— Contact the site owner. You absolutely have to find the right owner of the site, and this is a manual process. You cannot just send out an email to anyone who you think is involved with the site–using some tool to identify site owners.
— Send the right message. The message sent here from Shopzilla was the WRONG THING TO DO. You have to be kind to people, be courteous to website owners and ask them to remove the link or make it a “nofollow” link. I don’t recommend being nasty with people or threatening. At least not in the first email or contact you make with them. It can come back to bite you–what if the site owner got mad and started doing even more negative SEO to your website? I’ve seen it before. It can happen.
— After your link removal requests you need to then decide whether or not you need to actually do a link disavow with Google and Bing. In many cases, when I’ve gotten links removed (the right links removed), a link disavow is NOT needed.
Link removals take time and they’re mostly a manual process. There are some great tools out there link Link Research Tools that will help you identify suspicious and toxic links to your website. But just using a tool is only half the battle. You have to go through each and every link in order to figure out which are bad and which are good, healthy links. And which links aren’t worth chasing.